I've been thinking a lot about veganism. It's something I tried this past summer and fall, and for much of that time, I felt really good about not eating animal products. My primary reason for going vegan was sustainability: calorie for calorie, a plant-based diet is better for the environment in that growing crops requires less water, creates less pollution, requires less energy, and supports more people than does raising animals for food.
Veganism didn't stick - but somewhat surprisingly, it wasn't because I couldn't say no to a slab of steak or a grilled cheese sandwich. I like to cook, I like fresh produce, I'm addicted to rice and beans, and I still had my dark chocolate and coffee (which I absolutely refuse to give up, ever). I was fine with giving up animal products. Rather, it was because I started to feel like a giant pain in the ass whenever I ate with people other than my immediate family. Keep in mind that I also follow a gluten free diet, for health reasons (reasons like, I don't like having headaches every day and sinus infections once every month or two, and I do not enjoy stabbing pain in my stomach). So that meant that whenever I went out to eat with friends, or attended a party, it would turn into this big THING.
Let's go out to for lunch/dinner!
Oh wait. You can't eat gluten. So where can we go? [This alone causes unnecessary drama way more often than I'd like, despite the fact that the vast majority of restaurants/eateries now have GF options of some sort.]
Uhhhhh AND you can't eat meat? Really?
Or cheese? No dairy at all?
Oh god. That really limits our options.
And that's when this is going on in a major metropolitan area. This doesn't include the issues that unfold when I'm on a field trip and my advisor wants to cook camp food for everyone, every night, or when people invite my family to dinner and want to know what they should cook.
I really DON'T want it to cause drama, and yet it so often does. And I hate - HATE - inconveniencing people. Just the sense that I'm creating problems makes me feel horribly guilty, like I'm draining all the fun and all of the options out of the event. Then it degenerates into me wanting to crawl under a table, covering my ears and rocking back and forth. Really.
So I gave up on veganism, somewhat reluctantly but also with some relief from a social standpoint. I tried to stick to organic dairy products, free range eggs, and meat from farms that supposedly treat animals properly - though of course, depending on the situation and where I was, I didn't always have much control over that.
Then, two days ago, I watched the documentary Vegucated. It wasn't the most engaging documentary about food I've ever seen - it was no Food, Inc. - but it definitely made me reconsider veganism. One thing this movie did that others have not is look at the truth behind labels like "organic" and "free range" and similar terms carefully chosen to make the consumer feel good about her food choices. For example: "free range" doesn't necessarily mean than birds are allowed to freely roam the farm. More like, they're not stuffed into cages but instead have to trip over their cohorts and walk through mounds of poop in giant indoor chicken pens. Those same "free range" facilities may still cut off the beaks of chickens and chop up live male chicks for cat food. Another example: Even cows that are not stuffed with antibiotics may have their babies taken away from them and, if they get sick, are often put down with a bolt to the head.
More than the horrible video footage, I was disgusted by the hypocrisy. Companies KNOW that most consumers aren't aware of what goes on behind the scenes, and they take advantage of that.
I'm not saying that every meat or dairy farmer, or every food purveyor, operates in a hypocritical way. But I don't feel like having to dig for the truth every time I purchase an animal product. So, considering the environmental issues I already mentioned, and the health benefits I haven't touched on, I decided to go back to veganism for 30 days to see how it goes. I took the PETA 30 day challenge. I know that my friends and extended family have their own point of view, and I know I may end up inconveniencing some of them (especially at the holidays!). But this is something I want to try, and I hope the people will try to understand my reasons for it.
30 days starts tomorrow! My breakfast plans include a coconut milk "yogurt" with granola, orange juice, and of course coffee.